Ōkubo Toshimichi

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Ōkubo Toshimichi
Toshimichi Okubo 4.jpg
Ōkubo Toshimichi
Born (1830-09-26)September 26, 1830[1]
Kagoshima, Japan
Died May 14, 1878(1878-05-14) (aged 47)
Tokyo, Japan
Nationality Japanese
Occupation Politician

Ōkubo Toshimichi (大久保 利通?, September 26, 1830 – May 14, 1878) was a Japanese statesman, a samurai of Satsuma, and one of the three great nobles who led the Meiji Restoration. He is regarded as one of the main founders of modern Japan.

Early life

Ōkubo was born in Kagoshima, Satsuma Province, (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) to Ōkubo Juemon a low-ranking retainer of Satsuma daimyō Shimazu Nariakira. The eldest of five children, he studied at the same local school with Saigō Takamori, who was three years older. In 1846, he was given the position of aide to the domain's archivist.

Satsuma samurai

Ōkubo Toshimichi as a young samurai.

Shimazu Nariakira recognized Ōkubo's talents and appointed him to the position of tax administrator in 1858. When Nariakira died, Ōkubo joined the plot to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate. Unlike most Satsuma leaders, he favored the position of tōbaku (倒幕, overthrowing the Shogunate), as opposed to kōbu gattai (公武合体, marital unity of the Imperial and Tokugawa families) and hanbaku (opposition to the Shogunate) over the Sonnō jōi movement.

The Anglo-Satsuma War of 1863, along with the Richardson Affair and the September 1863 coup d'état in Kyoto convinced Ōkubo that the tobaku movement was doomed. In 1866, he met with Saigō Takamori and Chōshū Domain's Kido Takayoshi to form the secret Satcho Alliance to overthrow the Tokugawa.

Meiji restoration

On January 3, 1868, the forces of Satsuma and Chōshū seized the Kyoto Imperial Palace and proclaimed the Meiji Restoration. The triumvirate of Ōkubo, Saigō and Kido formed a provisional government. Appointed to be Home Lord, Ōkubo had a huge amount of power through his control of all local government appointments and the police force.

Initially, the new government had to rely on funds from the Tokugawa lands (which the Meiji government seized in toto). He then was able to appoint all new leaders for this land, most of the people he appointed as governors were young men, some were his friends, like Matsukata Masayoshi, and others were the rare Japanese who had gained some education in Europe or America. Okubo used the power of the Home Ministry to promote industrial development building roads, bridges, and ports, all things that the Tokugawa Shogunate had refused to do.

As Finance Minister in 1871, Ōkubo enacted a Land Tax Reform, the Haitōrei Edict, which prohibited samurai from wearing swords in public, and ended official discrimination against the outcasts. In foreign relations, he worked to secure revision of the unequal treaties and joined the Iwakura Mission on its around-the-world trip of 1871 to 1873.

Ōkubo Toshimichi (right), as a member of the Iwakura Mission.

Realizing that Japan was not in any position to challenge the western powers in its new present state, Ōkubo returned to Japan on September 13, 1873, just in time to take a strong stand against the proposed invasion of Korea (Seikanron). He also participated in the Osaka Conference of 1875 in an attempt to bring about a reconciliation with the other members of the Meiji oligarchy.

However, he was unable to win over former colleague Saigō Takamori regarding the future direction of Japan. Saigo became convinced that some of Japan's new polices of modernization were wrong and in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, some Satsuma rebels under the leadership of Saigō fought against the new government's army. As Home Minister Ōkubo took command of the army and fought against his old friend Saigo.

With the defeat of rebellion's forces, Ōkubo was considered a traitor by many of the Satsuma samurai. On May 14, 1878, Okubo was assassinated by Shimada Ichirō and six Kanazawa Domain samurai while on his way to the imperial palace,[2] only a few minutes' walk from the Sakurada gate where Ii Naosuke had been assassinated 18 years earlier.


Ōkubo Toshimichi.

Ōkubo was one of the most influential leaders of the Meiji Restoration and the establishment of modern governmental structures. Briefly, for a time he was the most powerful man in Japan.[citation needed] A devout loyalist and nationalist, he enjoyed the respect of his colleagues and enemies alike.

Personal life

Ōkubo was the son of a magistrate, Ōkubo Toshio (1794-1863), and his wife, Minayoshi Fuku (1803-1864). He married Hayasaki Masako (d. 1878), with whom he had four sons and a daughter. His children from this marriage were Toshikazu, the 1st Marquess Okubo (1859-1945), Makino Nobuaki (1861-1949), Toshitake, later the 2nd Marquess (1865-1943), Ishihara Takeguma (1869-1943), who was adopted by his wife Yaeko's family, and Yoshiko, who married Ijuin Hikokichi.

Ōkubo's second son, Makino Nobuaki, and his son-in-law Ijuin Hikokichi served as Foreign Minister.[3] Tarō Asō, the 92nd Prime Minister of Japan, and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa are great-great-grandchildren of Ōkubo Toshimichi.

In 1884, Toshikazu was ennobled as a marquess in the new peerage in honour of his father's achievements. He married Shigeno Naoko (1875-1918), but had no children and relinquished the title in 1928 in favour of his younger brother Toshitake (1865-1943). A graduate of Yale and Heidelberg universities, Toshitake successively served as governor of Tottori (1900), Oita (1901-1905), Saitama (1905-1907) and Osaka (1912–1917) prefectures. He married Kondo Sakae (1879-1956) and had three children, Toshiaki (1900-1995), Toshimasa (1901-1945) and Michitada (1908-?). Toshiaki became a prominent professor of Japanese history and succeeded as the 3rd Marquess in 1943, holding the title until the peerage was abolished in 1947. He subsequently became the librarian of the National Diet Library from 1951 to 1953 and then taught as a lecturer and professor of history at Nagoya University (1953-1959) and at Rikkyu University (1959-1965). He was awarded the Asahi Prize in 1993, two years before his death. He married Yoneda Yaeko (1910-?) and had two children, Yasushi (1934-) and Shigeko (1936-). Yasushi married Matsudaira Naoko (1940-) and had a daughter, Akiko (1965-).[4]

Okubo also had four illegitimate children by a mistress.

In fiction

In the manga/anime series Rurouni Kenshin, Ōkubo Toshimichi appears to seek Himura Kenshin's assistance in destroying the threat posed by the revolt of Shishio Makoto. Kenshin is uncertain, and Ōkubo gives him a May 14 deadline to make his decision. On his way to seek Kenshin's answer on that day, he is supposedly assassinated by Seta Sōjirō, Shishio's right-hand man, and the Ichirō clan desecrates his corpse and claim they killed him. (Watsuki makes a comparison to President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, with Ōkubo in his notes).[5]

In Boris Akunin's novel, The Diamond Chariot, Erast Fandorin investigates the plot to assassinate Ōkubo but fails to prevent the assassination.


  1. Iwata, Masakazu. Okubo Toshimichi: The Bismarck of Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 21.
  2. Iwata, Ōkubo Toshimichi, p. 253.
  3. Hui-Min Lo (June 1, 1978). The Correspondence of G. E. Morrison 1912-1920. CUP Archive. p. 873. ISBN 978-0-521-21561-9. Retrieved January 8, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Genealogy
  5. Watsuki, Nobuhiro. "The Secret Life of Characters (22) Ōkubo Toshimichi," Rurouni Kenshin Volume 7. VIZ Media. 186.


External links